Tawjihi, the mall, and H20

Not much time left in Jordan, so I’ve been really busy and haven’t really had a lot of time to write a lot of blog posts so I’m going to compress a few topics here.

Tawjihi

In the US, everyone freaks out about their SAT score in their college application, but alhamduhlillah, it is not the deciding factor in your application, for the college also looks at your essays, letters of recommendation, and grades in school. In Jordan, however, in the 12 grade, students take a test called Tawjihi. The score one gets on this test is the sole deciding factor for where one is placed in college in Jordan, so it is really really really important. My host sister has been studying nonstop for this exam: she goes to school to study for this as well as goes to a different school for extra practice and then spends even more time reviewing at home! The amount of time spent studying for this exam is starting to make me stressed for her!

Anyway, the results for this year’s Tawjihi came out at the start of this week, so during the night, people celebrate the results with fireworks, parties, and driving around in cars honking and playing loud music. It was funny to see this because in the US, people don’t really publicly celebrate getting into their college, so its nice to see the city coming alive in celebration.

The Mall 

Yesterday I went to Taj Mall to see how some of the malls are here. I felt like I was back in the US. All the stores were American or European (H&M, Starbucks, Victoria Secret…) and there was air-conditioning (finally!!!). Basically, it was a really nice mall and I immediately felt transported back to the US, so we didn’t stay too long, but it was interesting to see!

H20

In Jordan there is serious water shortage. This means that each house gets a ration of water each month, so if you run out of water, you can’t buy more water… your water ration is simply over. Of course, different neighborhoods have different amounts of water, so nicer neighborhoods have more water than others.

Regardless, in Jordan, one needs to be very aware of the water, so showers need to be reaaallly short and not every day. The benefit, therefore, of joining a gym was taking showers every day for more than a few minutes! I have to say that I am looking forward to this aspect in the US, of not being constantly worried that I am using up my family’s limited water supply!

Eid!

“Kul yom wa antee bikhayer” (a greeting about how you are well every year) was the first thing I heard from my host mother Friday morning as I walked into the living room. Music was playing in the living room and a lovely spread was set on the table.

I have celebrated Eid al-Adha in Oman, but was very excited to celebrate the other Eid, Eid al-Fitr (the 3-day celebration at the end of Ramadan) in Jordan.

In the morning, we sat around the living room, eating homemade delicious ma’amoul cookies (they are so amazing– soft cookies filled with dates) and drinking coffee. Then, everyone started getting ready (people buy new clothes for Eid) and my host family gave me a necklace as a present, a necklace that both my host sisters have; it was such a sweet and thoughtful gift!

IMG_4270At about 6, after lunch (lunch is heavy and eaten late in Jordan), we headed to Irbid, which is the city in which my host mother’s family lives (my host father’s family is all in Palestine).

The drive was only about an hour away, and on the way, we stopped at a cemetery, to briefly pay respects to my host father’s parents, who are buried there. My host mother explained that during Eid, one should do this, but the visit should be short and should not be filled with sadness, but with happiness for it is Eid.

We got to Irbid and went to my host mother’s parent’s house. Irbid reminded me a lot of Bahla in Oman, for there are more simple houses, scattered (as it is not a city as Amman is). We spent the evening sitting in the living room, socializing (reminded me again of Bahla and how the days were spent sitting in the living room, with the family talking and catching up). Women also kept their hair covered, unless the males in the room were brothers. The only biggest difference I found from Oman was that both males and females sat in the same room, though this may simply be because everyone there was family (though it seemed more appropriate for gender mixing). I also found the decorations in houses in Bahla to be more present (a bit generalizing, but this is simply from my experience), but this may reflect the wealth that is more present in the Gulf. Otherwise, I almost felt as though I was back in Bahla, for there were so many similarities.

We sat around in the living room and ate falafel sandwiches and drank tea. My host grandfather and some of the other men in the family smoked hookah (they had at least 2 hookahs in the house as it is a big part of Jordanian culture). Later, we finally went to bed. I shared a room with my host sisters and we slept on little pads on the floor. I also found it interesting as the toilet in the house was a Turkish toilet!

The next day was similar to Friday evening; we sat in the living room and hung out the whole day. We had lunch at 4:30 and it was delicious! It was interesting because my host mother’s brother cooked the whole meal (he apparently loves cooking) and unlike Oman, where the men would frequently be served first in another room, we all went to get food at the same time and sat all together. We also ate with individual plates and silverware, which was another difference from Oman, where we would sit on the ground and eat from a shared plate. The meal was delicious– probably one of the best meals I have eaten so far in Jordan (there is a photo of it below as well as a photo of one of the sitting rooms in the house).

After a pleasant evening drinking tea, we drove home and I immediately passed out in bed. I am so grateful for my host family to bring me to introduce me to their family. Everyone was so welcoming and kind and made me feel right at home. I also loved being able to experience Jordanian life outside Amman, and really was able to experience part of Jordanian’s culture that one would not experience without a host family. Truly a wonderful experience.

Back in the US

The last two weeks have been a blur. From Oman to the US, everything has flown by so fast that I have barely been able to take a breath.

My last day in Oman was surreal. The day before I left Oman, I (and each of the other NSLI-Y girls) presented the capstone projects (final project) to our host families, teachers, and some embassy staff. My project was on Oman’s economic future and shift from oil. I had been pretty stressed about it for the past month (since we had to write a research paper and create a presentation– all in Arabic), so I was pretty happy to get it over with. Then we said bye to our teachers, which was sad, since they have been some of my favorite teachers ever.

The next day (my last day), I frantically finished packing and then hung out with my family until it was time to go to the airport. It was so weird to think that I was leaving, and when I was at the airport, I felt like I was going on an AMIDEAST excursion, but would be back after a few days. I said bye to my host family and bye to Oman and then we took a plane to Dubai and then a plane to Washington DC (where we (NSLIY girls) had a very tearful goodbye) before we each took planes to our respective states.

It feels so weird to be back in the US. I’ve had a little bit of reverse culture shock, but otherwise, I think that I have adjusted back pretty well. It is exciting to have more independence and to see my friends and family, but at the same time, there are so many aspects of Oman and Omani culture that I miss, and every day so far, I am reminded of Oman in different aspects of my life.

I am so sad that this chapter of my life is over. Though the most challenging year of my life so far, it was also the best year of my life yet. I had so many amazing moments, built close relationships, and learned so much, not only about another culture and language, but also about myself. Though I am sad that my time in Oman is over, I know I will return to this beautiful country in the future, and am also excited to start college and see where my travels take me next.

Turtle Watching!!

This title is a little deceptive since there ended up not being turtles involved, but nonetheless, seeing turtles was our original intention.

This happened about a month ago and I’m super lazy and all, so I just got around to writing about this trip. But as always, better late than never! This trip was to the area near the city of Sur (in the Sharqiyah Region of Oman– ie: Northeastern Oman on the coast of the Gulf of Oman) to go see turtles (or as we found, a lack thereof).

We left Friday night after dinner because a) the turtle watching tours occur either late at night or at sunrise and b) we were too cheap to rent rooms in hotels, so we figured driving through the night would be the cheapest (and most fun) option.

The drive to the turtle watching reserve was an adventure in and of itself. We booked ourselves a tour (5 riales each) at a reserve called Ras al Jinz (located at the easternmost point of the Arabian Peninsula) and used google maps to for directions. The directions were pretty good until the end, when we were told to make a turn off the road and behind a Mosque. We then started driving through the sand (note, this is the middle of the night and it looked like a scene from a horror movie where the monster attacks the people in the middle of the wilderness). As I scrolled to the final destination listed on google maps on my phone, I realized that it stopped in the middle of the beach, ways away from the reserve. We decided to follow the signs on the road pointed to the reserve instead, a call we probably should have made at the beginning. Our next adventure occurred as we neared the reserve and pulled over next to a car with two Omani men to ask for directions to the reserve (just to make sure we were going the right way). They told us that we were close and that they would take us there, but that we had missed a turn and had to go back a little bit. We were about to follow them but then we looked up and saw a sign for the reserve a few feet away for the entrance to the reserve. So I’m not really sure where the Omani men were planning to take us…

Anyway, it was about 2 AM now and the tour started at 6 AM so we had some time to kill. We wanted to go hang out on the beach for a while, but could not go on the beach at the reserve (people pay to camp near the beach there) and they kindly offered to let us stay in the parking lot, but instead we drove back a little bit in the direction we came from and stopped on an empty beach. We spread out a blanket and hung out there for the next 4 hours (the sky was so clear and I saw my first shooting stars!). We also found a lot of crabs and had fun playing (errr chasing) them.

10153707_10201336119205333_8334591790709260129_n

Meet our new friend!

Right before 6, the sun started to rise and it was one of the most magical moments I have ever experienced: being on the eastern most part of the Arabian Peninsula (i.e. being one of the first people to watch the sunrise), on a gorgeous beach with our new crab friends (and human friends, so that’s always good), as the Adhan (call to prayer) played on the mosque behind us. I have no words to describe this moment besides “magical”.

We then went back to the reserve and joined the other large groups of tourists there to see the turtles. A bus took us down to a gorgeous beach and a guide informed us that he was on the lookout for turtles.

Unfortunately, we did not see any turtles (the man promised us that they were there the night before— though I suspect they might always say that). I do not, however, regret the trip, because the beach was gorgeous, I got to collect some shells for my collection, and our crab friends were also present on this beach. One of my friends and I climbed some rocks on the edge of the beach and sat on the top of them to get a fantastic view of the beach as the sun rose. It was absolutely stunning.

The ride back was tiring (considering the all-nighter we had just pulled) but the drive was lovely because it the road ran along the coast. Oman’s natural beauty is stunning and I am so glad that I got to experience more of it with this amazing turtle-less trip.

Last Time in Bahla

(From last weekend: May 9-May 11)

It’s so weird that everything is coming to an end for me here in Oman. Last weekend I saw Al Hamra and Bahla for the last time (though hopefully in the future I will visit these places again), and I tried to memorize everything in my mind as much as I could.

Friday my host mother and brothers came to pick me up from school (my host father was in Dubai for the weekend to meet a friend) and we drove to Al Hamra (my mother’s village, which is about half an hour from Bahla) to spend the night. I have visited Al Hamra a few times before, but this was the first time that I spent the night there. All the women sat together and we ate dinner outside on a matt (rice and fish) and we hung out there for a while. During the evening, several neighbors came and bought clothes from my host mother (she has a business that sells clothes on Instagram). Fun fact about my host mother’s parent’s house: the toilets aren’t Western-style; they are holes in the ground with a porcelain cover!

Saturday after breakfast, we hung out in the house and I talked to some of my host mother’s sisters. We ate lunch (rice and chicken) and then drove to Bahla to my host father’s parent’s house. At their house we hung out in the living room and throughout the afternoon, different neighbors stopped by to buy clothes from my host mother. One of my favorite things about Oman is that each time one has a guest, coffee, dates, and fruit are offered to the guest. So the evening was spent with different periods of delicious snacking on coffee, dates, and fruit. After dinner, my host mother, host cousin and I went for a walk around the neighborhood.

Sunday I hung out in the living room with host family or sometimes with host aunts in my host cousin’s room (rooms here aren’t really private like they are in the US. Family members walk in and out of different rooms, regardless of whether or not it’s a bedroom. I think that this is because culturally in Oman, privacy is not considered something as positive: being with others and sharing things with others is considered positive. Therefore, from what I have seen, bedrooms are quite simple with not a lot of decoration (just mainly a bed and storage), since it is not really considered to be one’s private sanctuary as it is in the US).It was a cool winter, so it was weird being hot again in Bahla (since I am dressed conservatively in Bahla, but I finally have mastered how to wrap my hijab, so that has made things a lot easier!!). My host mother and I went to a big wholesale discount store in Bahla and on the way back to their house, we passed men selling meat in little stalls set up in parking lots. After lunch, we got ready to go and I said bye to a lot of members of my extended family (they were so surprised that I was leaving so soon). My host grandmother, cousin, and one of my aunts gave me a present of two fabric sets to make Omani dresses, so I am really excited about that because the fabric is gorgeous and I gave it to the tailor to make dresses! Then I took one last memory glance of my Bahla house before we drove back to Muscat.

Time for the cheesiness: I think this was one of my favorite trips to Bahla because it seemed to bring my trips to Bahla to a full circle. I remember my first time in Bahla (during Eid) I was so confused, out-of-place, and completely awkward. I understood almost no Arabic, was uninformed about Omani culture, and did not know anyone in my extended family. This trip was the first time I felt no awkwardness: I felt comfortable with the etiquettes and norms guided by Omani culture, knew everyone there from my extended family, and my Arabic has improved a lot since my first trips, so I was sometimes able to contribute to conversations and occasionally understand some of the jokes. I have developed friendships with many members of my extended family and this trip, felt as if I belonged there. It’s funny how much has changed since my first visits and I am so grateful for the hospitality that my extended family has shown me.

Weekend Activities

Not a lot to report from this past weekend.

On Friday my host father and one of my host brother went to Bahla for the weekend (one of my host cousins just got engaged!). My host cousin came over and we hung out around the house during the day. In the evening, we went to the mall and then to a small carnival (it has some rides and small carnival games). It was my host mother’s birthday, so I surprised her by baking a cake. Surprise party!

Saturday was spent reading and catching up on homework. Yeah, I have a really exciting life :)